Back to school typically calls for a trip to the mall for school clothes. Before you make the trip out to your favorite department or specialty store to take advantage of those pre- season sales, have you considered your child's school dress code? Many parents and kids agree when choosing clothing, or willingly make compromises in order to avoid bloodshed. Others on the other hand can be over heard in the dressing rooms debating in vein the issue of appropriate school attire. All school districts have a dress code; some are strictly enforced, while others are less stringent. Dress codes, like fashions change with the times. But all claim to have one common goal, which is to assure that the atmosphere in schools is conducive to learning. Many dress codes state something to the affect that clothing may not be transparent, distracting, too restrictive or disruptive to the school environment. Midriffs can't be exposed; shorts and skirts can't be too short and in some code books, too long. No platform shoes or thongs. No beach wear, no halters, no strapless shirts. Torsos must be covered at all times (i.e., thongs or boxer can't be too exposed
) Overall, the many dress codes require that clothing comply with the safety or health codes of the state of New Jersey. Jack Denmead, a 1940 Netcong high school graduate, remembers wearing a suit and tie everyday to school. "Anything else other than a suit and tie would have been out of the question. The girls couldn't or wouldn't consider wearing anything but a dress, never pants. My mother was the one who determined what we would wear to school everyday. I honestly don't remember ever having a problem with a dress code," recalls Denmead. Jack's brother Harry graduated years later and remembers the rule that boys had to be clean-shaven in school. "Jeans were not allowed to be worn because the medal studs in the fabric caused scratching on the wooden desk chairs," recalls the younger Denmead, who graduated in 1958. Gabrielle Clark a 1983 graduate of Sparta high school, took her fashion cues from the popular book entitled, The Preppy Handbook,' which was a must have guide book for the preppy fashion wanna-bees. "There was this great store in Sparta called Applecore's and they sold all preppy clothes and accessories, like Izod shirts, Bermuda bags, headbands, all kinds of things for preps. I'm sure there was a dress code for the school but given that particular style, I don't remember it ever needing to be enforced," says Clark. When Clarks husband, Rich, graduated in 1979, the styles were very similar to what is fashionable now. He also doesn't remember the dress code being an issue back then but believes it was more strictly enforced a few years later. How strict a dress code is, or if it's enforced has a lot to do with administration. Some teachers and principals are more concerned about dress codes than others. Most school boards adopt a dress policy for students that they feel is only minimally restrictive, but sets a standard for appearance during school hours, while still allowing a student to express his or her own individuality through their attire. The school boards expect that the code will be reviewed on a regular basis to insure that the policy is reasonable and consistent with community attitudes. Back in the mid 30s following the Depression, most schools' main concern regarding a dress code was cleanliness. People had very little money and as a result, soap and shampoo was not a staple in every household. Evelyn Welsh, a 73-year-old Sparta summer resident remembers having weekly inspections in grade school. "They checked our heads for lice and looked us over to make sure we were clean. You could wear the same clothes everyday if you had to, but they had to be clean or you got sent home with a note," recalls Welsh. Later in high school Welsh doesn't believe there actually was a dress code. "Kids pretty much dressed alike and all the styles back then were appropriate for school. Some families just had a little more and others had a little less. But I don't ever remember anyone coming to school over exposed or inappropriate in any offensive manner of dress." Students have come a long way from the weekly school inspections conducted on the heels of the Great Depression to the MTV generation of dress codes. Kids are for the most part clean, now parents have to make sure their children are fully clothed before sending them to school, which some have dubbed the fashion show or fashion institute.' Somehow parents have to dress them appropriately without cramping the students' sense of style. Are adults overreacting? Hannah Lowery a Sophomore at Sparta high school and classmates Danielle Paulson and Heather Sprich think there's a little more fashion freedom in high school than in the middle school. They all agree that the code is too strict for today's fashions. They recall times when their own sense of style was questioned by authority figures. "All tank top straps have to measure four-fingers, wide. Your stomach can't show at all, which is almost impossible because of the low-rise pants everybody wears. They would make you raise your hands over your head, and if your stomach showed you either had to call your mother for a new shirt or wear your gym shirt all day!" remembers Lowery. Open toe shoes as well as backless shoes such as clogs, mules, and the popular slip on sneakers are not permitted in middle school according to the trio. "They think they're too dangerous for the stairs" states Sprich. Paulson remembers a day when she wore what she believed to be a pretty dress and new shoes her mom bought her. "They made me change my shoes because you could see my toes" recalls Paulson. Hats, bandanas and any type of headwear is prohibited and is often confiscated for weeks at a time according to the girls. "When we went to middle school you'd sometimes see lines of kids outside the principal's office just waiting to be inspected (for alleged dress code infractions)," Paulson says through laughter, while remembering the scene. If kids, parents and administrators can't agree, maybe the answer to the dress code dilemma is uniforms. Most of the parents interviewed for this article believe that for the most part, kids enjoy expressing their own individuality when choosing clothing and would really dislike the idea of uniforms. Based on that, the parents would most likely vote no' to uniforms if given the choice. Kara Vitolo, mother of four is one of them. "I think uniforms are more necessary in inner-cities were kids could get killed over a pair of sneakers. Certain clothing often represents gang affiliations in the cities. Uniforms would help to defuse those situations," she said. All parents interviewed agree however that uniforms would do cut down on the morning prep time. "Before my kids went into a high school were uniforms are required, I'd find at least two or three rejected outfits on the bedroom floors. Although my kids don't like the idea of wearing uniforms, it really does make getting ready in the morning so much easier," says Leslie Plifka of Sparta, whose children attend Pope John High School. Could it be possible that the rejected outfits on the floor and that desire to express their individuality is more about the need to fit in and look as fashionable as their peers and the celebs in the media? Could uniforms eliminate that social pressure for students, at least for the time they spend in school? Linda Matchett, a high school math teacher and mother of five Sparta students thinks so. "As a parent and teacher I'd love uniforms for all schools, it would certainly cut down on the fashion competition in the schools," says Matchett. Lorrie Ochs who has one daughter in middle school and a son in high school agrees. "I think uniforms would definitely level the playing field as far as fashions are concerned," states Ochs. And what about the finances involved in back to school shopping. The parents polled for this story claim to spend anywhere from $250 to $600 per child during that initial back-to-school shopping spree. Those figures don't include the mid-year "must haves." "Some shoes alone are over $80," said Matchett. Wow! Uniforms anyone?